Imagine a situation: It's autumn time, my little son asks me: "Daddy, why is that tree without leaves?" What is a correct way to answer him in this situation?

Please, choose one or few variants which are fine and explain why.

a) The leaves are fallen on the ground.
b) The leaves was fallen on the ground.
c) The leaves have fallen on the ground.
d) The leaves had fallen on the ground.


The purpose is not to find the best way to answer the question. The purpose is to understand which variant is fine in that context.


I would actually choose something other than the four variants you have presented. In reality, the best option would be something like this:

The leaves have fallen to the ground.

The difference is slight, and to a non-native speaker, likely invisible. In fact, native speakers will understand you just as well. The difference here is the connotative differences between "fallen on the ground" and "fallen to the ground." I actually have a hard time putting the difference to words, but I'll try.

"Fallen on the ground" means something more unnatural to me. In other words, something has slipped out of my hands and fallen on the ground - it wasn't supposed to fall. It isn't an object that is supposed to fall.

"Fallen to the ground," however, is something I would use with things that do that naturally. I can't think of any other contexts right now, but they're meant to fall to the ground - the leaves naturally fall to the ground. It isn't an accident. It's meant to happen.

The distinction is subtle, but it is certainly there.

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  • Thank you for your answer ! Is it fine to say "The leaves fell to the ground" or just "The leaves fell" ? – chumakoff Nov 7 '15 at 22:18
  • @chumakoff Both of those options are correct and useable! – Alex K Nov 7 '15 at 23:12
  • Just to make sure, it's very important to me. Is the sentense "The leaves fell" correct and usable as an answer to the question ? Can I just say about something "it happend" if I am not just telling about this as an event in the past, but I want instead to show that the event which happened in the past is the reason of a condition that is now present, and I don't know when it exactly happen and I didn't see how it happened ? – chumakoff Nov 9 '15 at 19:41
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    Yes, you may answer "The leaves fell." to your son's question. In fact, that's a clear, consice, and simple answer. This is completely correct and usable response. The "to the ground" part that I added is just for clarity. When we say that something falls, we assume that it falls to the ground (or on the ground). Simply saying "the leaves fell" is a fine answer, especially to a child. – Alex K Nov 9 '15 at 19:51

a) and b) are never correct, because "are fallen" and "was fallen" are grammatically incorrect. The tenses [verb to be] + [past participle of intransitive verb] is not a tense in Modern English. *

c) is correct, because the verb is in the present perfect tense, which tells us about an action occurred at some nonspecific point in time before the present moment.

d) is not correct, because the verb is in the past perfect tense, which tells us an action occurred at a nonspecific point in time before some other event in the past. Therefore it is not okay to use, because there is no other event you are comparing to. If your son asked you about the tree later that day,

Why didn't that tree have leaves?

You could respond

The tree was without leaves because the leaves had fallen on the ground.

Because you are comparing to a verb in the past tense. Basically the past perfect is a "super" past tense.

*As user chumakoff points out, phrases like "He is gone" is really common in modern English. And yet, "He is come" sounds strange to me. Both of these fit the pattern [verb to be] + [past participle of intransitive verb]. The only difference is one uses the verb "to go", the other the verb "to come". So why don't people say "He is come" to mean "He is here"?

I suspect that the construction [verb to be] + [past participle of intransitive verb] used to be valid syntax, but is no longer valid for the majority of verbs. "He is gone" is an idiom, and only sounds like current day English because of frequent daily use. In fact, "gone" in this context doesn't have the full powers of a verb. For example, although,

I go to Spain

is valid syntax, people don't usually say

He is gone to Spain

They would instead say

He has gone to Spain

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    The [verb to be] + [past participle] is used in English, at times. "I am become death", "Christ is risen", etc. – user20792 Nov 7 '15 at 21:47
  • I just realized that transitive verbs also take that pattern when the passive voice is used, edited. Also I don't think those are fair examples, because it's not modern English. In the modern day people would definitely say "Christ has risen". – Senjougahara Hitagi Nov 7 '15 at 22:04
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    The examples User1 points out are fossilized uses of the archaic perfect auxiliary be which is no longer part of the language in Present-Day English. It did take a very long time to die out completely, though, and was still used in part of what we call Modern English. Unfortunately, the divisions into EModE, ModE, and so on aren't particularly useful here. The label "Present-Day English" lets us talk about the version of the language which no longer has this auxiliary, though, so let's use that. – snailplane Nov 7 '15 at 22:32
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    They say it because they are purposefully being archaic. Many people still read older versions of The Bible. They also say "So saith the Lord". Oppenheimer is also translating a religious text, and probably did it for dramatic effect. Modern speakers of English are likely to perceive that construct as archaic, because the main exposure they have to it is old texts. Nobody goes around saying "I am woken up", they say "I have woken up". Also I suppose I meant modern English, not the specialized term Modern English (as in the Modern Period). – Senjougahara Hitagi Nov 7 '15 at 22:36
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    The past participle of "to die" is "died. But you bring up a good point. I suspect "is gone" is a fossil of an older form of English that has persisted to modern day through daily use. However, you cannot extend this construction to the majority of verbs. People don't say "He is come" or "He is died". Edited my answer with the explanation. – Senjougahara Hitagi Nov 10 '15 at 1:06

c is the grammatically correct answer. But I would suggest:

The tree has gone to sleep for the winter.

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  • Thank you, but the purpose is to understand which variant is fine in that context. – chumakoff Nov 7 '15 at 18:55
  • In that case I join in Alex K's advice, and voted up his answer. – NJRandy Nov 9 '15 at 19:01

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